[Due to a screwup at my end, this essay wasn’t included in the ebook or print editions released on Jan 10 and nobody realized until someone asked over the weekend. Posting here, and will upload a new copy everywhere this week.]
A while back, there was a discussion on social media about the short-lived TV show Firefly. Half a season of episodes and one movie. Fantastic casting, when you look at the careers of everyone involved, but it died pretty early on the vine, though not without making a major cultural impact.
More recently, unflattering things have come out about the man behind the show. Bad things. Really bad things that I won’t repeat here, but a lot of folks no longer have any respect for the man, myself included.
Part of the original discussion involved the fact that the main character (seen from 20 years later) really is something of an asshole to everyone, because the ^creative genius creator and producer^ did a Marty Stu and put himself directly into the show. In turn. folks asked what that show might have been like without that character, and without that asshole in charge.
Two days later, write-brain hit me with “This is what it looks like…”
Pull out the original main character, and the sidekick and pilot characters suddenly become central. Keep everyone else, but pull a couple of fast gender swaps to end up with a crew that is (technically: the best kind of correct) six females and two males, one of whom is happily married and kept and the other of whom only sleeps with girls he picks up in bars.
For the setting, I also want to gag at people who set things in the post-civil-war United States, especially when we’re supposed to be rooting for the traitors fighting to keep their slaves. I have no doubt that, had the television series gone to season three, our main character would have donned a white hood and turned into a science fiction version of Nathaniel Bedford Forrest. In all the bad ways. Icky. Burning crosses or something equally ^subtle.^
So I had to change things up, if I was going to have fun with this.
First off, I had to change the background of the setting itself.
David Drake (Hammer’s Slammers and many other series) studied a LOT of history and reads Latin in the original to translate Ovid, among other things. His creative style was to take actual historical events and settings and twist them around some for his space opera. I needed to do the same.
For the Last Stand, I started with a review of Napoleonic Europe, but with one, critical, historical difference. Instead of destroying his army invading Russia, he won, conquering the Russian Empire (and functionally all of the European landmass) and eliminating the Russian aristocratic class. Or rather, swapping out most of them, as the serfs didn’t see any difference.
For Tessa, my main character, badass, amazon, warrior babe, I also used Russian history. In her case, I based her on a taller version of (model/actress/etc.) Zhanna Zhumaliyeva. Gorgeous. Kazakh, because in the early part of the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire was pushing south into the Black Sea area and conquering (and often wiping out) all of the tribes and nations that had previously lived there. That formed the basis of the Vlikine.
Similarly, I needed the include a touch of the German Principalities (Altenfeld), mostly because they all got conquered by Napoleon but not absorbed in our history before Wellington and Friends sent the Corsican packing. Twice.
Swiss neutrality got included in a more modern conception of Inleah, where they would happily sell anything to anyone with cash in hand. Always cash upfront. Mercenary to an amoral fault. Tessa’s husband Fin is from Inleah. All he ever wanted to do was fly.
Ergrove is my British Empire, with all the foibles and charm of the original, pushed forward into space and twisted around. Some nice things. Some not so nice things. More accurate, if you will.
Imperial France becomes Lorastir, the then height of culture and sophistication, as Napoleonic France tended to be in those days. Wyatt and Laney both served in the Lorastir army, neither of them in the infantry, if you will, but I won’t spoil some of the surprises coming your way.
There was a character in the television series who was everyone’s favorite, because she was a modern geisha. Educated. Eloquent. Beautiful. The series literally treated her like a whore, abusing her to no end in ways that any woman worth her salt wouldn’t have put up with from any other screen writer.
I got lucky. Way lucky.
As a writer, I have friends. Some are peers. Some are folks I mentor. One of the latter is someone I refer to as Renaissance Babe™ because she’s been a concert pianist, photographer, writer, and had to retire as a nude model when she turned 30 because she had aged out. (dumbasses.)
In Abigail, I created the Players. Geisha as they really were, rather than the fancy prostitutes that western media have since made them out to be. Raconteurs, chefs, musicians. Sex might be on the menu, if they like you, but maybe you hire them to come in and cook an incredible meal, then sit and talk for hours.
Katja was an invaluable resource for creating Abigail, because she has literally been in those situations and could offer expert advice on how to fix things I got initially wrong. I considered it the highest compliment when she told me that she wants to be Abigail when she grows up. Better, she took the concept of the Player, and is working on telling her own set of stories with something similar. Not many people could get all those little details right.
There are no original stories. There are only original takes. New ways to see a character or a setting. I’m utterly thrilled that I have inspired her to go off on this tangent, since my work here was a tangent on the original set of complaints about how badly that television show holds up, twenty years later. (Got watch the first triple episode without the blinkers and get back to me before you comment. You will be appalled at the behavior.)
Finally, the two fugitives. I got what he was doing, but my plan with this series is to not have paranormal abilities running around, just as there won’t be aliens. (That latter is because I don’t need to deal with the extra complexities of colonialism and all the bad things that arise on both sides of that equation. Conscious decision here, so that the stories are human ones.)
I liked the fugitive doctor, but had to twist it. Made him a woman. She rescued her sister, and then bought a pair of identities that list them as husband and wife, because everyone is looking for two women. Constanz and Brianna McLaren.
This lets her hide in plain sight, as it were, while dealing with the fact that she is a woman. And she only ^presents^ as male to hide. She won’t get to be girly all that often, but occasionally it will peek out, as it were.
The sister, Brianna, is described as one of the most beautiful women you will ever encounter, taking her natural beauty and augmenting it. At the same time, they broke her mind. And she has spent years trying to reassemble it with Constanz’s help. And the crew of the Last Stand.
Finally, the series itself.
In my mind, each of these novellas is intended to represent one hour of television time, with commercial breaks. That is, 42 minutes of screen, including opening and closing credits.
Once upon a time, I wrote dramas for the stage. Then I worked on screenplays (I have several, if you have a few million bucks burning a hole in your pocket, btw.).
A screenplay reads as just about one minute of screen for one page of dialogue, depending. When I started writing the original Science Officer books, that was in the back of my mind, because forty minutes of screen works out to roughly 22,000-24,000 words of fiction. Thus, the novella.
The Last Stand are all novellas. Episode #1/Lost Dreams, is longer, but that’s me introducing the world and whole cast in an extra-long episode. So far, with one exception (I have ten in the can), they all come in around 22,000 words, which was my target. Enough story to have a singular conflict and resolve it, plus side stories and details to give it depth.
Better, because I have a large cast, I can focus each story on a different character and really show you who they are. One of my first readers complained about #5 because she understood the situation and agreed with me that Tessa’s solution was perfectly correct, but it irritated her, because the more she thought about it, none of her (First Reader’s) alternatives would work. That means I got her all the way down into the best kind of ethical conundrum, where there are only less-bad solutions to be had.
My (current) plan is to publish one of these stories each month in 2023. That’s twelve episodes, which makes a nice Season One and then lets me take a break and step back. I have some thirty possible plots I could work with, plus whatever I come up with going forward. I have nine of them in the can, as mentioned, and I already know what #11 and #12 will be. (Both circle back to earlier stories and expand them in new, fun ways.)
As with the Science Officer, I don’t know what Season Two will look like. I like to work with novellas at this length because I can write them quickly. With Science Officer, I bumped up to full novels with Season Two, because I wanted to tell bigger stories there. Here? Remains to be seen.
I’m having fun. And my first readers have all noticed the fun. I did not slavishly follow the original run of the television show and movie. In fact, I watched that first triple episode to see what they had done (and how BADLY it held up) so I could create more interesting and in-depth versions of the characters as I twisted them around.
Personally, I’m not sure if the television characters would have ever gotten any great depth to them. The man behind it all appears to be something of a sexist, homophobic, racist punk, if you listen to all the horror stories that have come out. There are stories about him and his buddies have competitions to see who could make a young, new, female writer cry first. Talk about toxic workplace.
Instead, I wanted to create rich people. Deep. Complex. And not cardboard cutouts. Some of the stories are 100% action from bowsprit to sternlights, but some of them are slower burns, diving deep into the ethics of a world where the heroes occasionally have to rob banks. And regularly smuggle illegal goods from place to place.
That’s similar to the world we live in today, when the wealthy have grown their political power desperately out of scale with the economy and the rest of the world. If nothing changes, there will be a terrible collapse at some point, simply because the world can’t handle this imbalance.
So come, join me on an adventure into Hawkwold Sector and follow the crew as they take Last Stand into dark places and light ones, meeting dukes and scoundrels, governors and warlords.
Tessa isn’t about to take any shit, and she’s got a crew full of dangerous friends who will help her out.
The Last Stand.
Shade and sweet water,
West of the Mountains, WA